A 19-year-old Eldridge woman accused in a GoFundMe cancer scam is making national headlines.
Today’s People Magazine and New York Post websites feature the case of Madison Russo, an Eldridge woman who allegedly scammed donors out of more than $37,000 through a GoFundMe and TikTok after she claimed she had pancreatic cancer.
The New York Post headline says “TikToker charged in GoFundMe cancer scam after documenting ‘battle’” and refers to the story that broke after Russo’s Jan. 23 arrest on a first-degree theft charge.
Russo is suspected of stealing more than $37,000 from more than 439 donors with false claims she suffered from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, stage 2 pancreatic cancer and “a tumor the size of a football” that wrapped around her spine, Eldridge Police said in a news release.
Russo shared her story on social media, on GoFundMe and in the North Scott Press. She also spoke at St. Ambrose University, The National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation in Chicago and a Project Purple podcast, the release says.
Witnesses who have medical experience spoke with the Eldridge Police Department on Jan. 11 and pointed out many medical discrepancies found in her pictures posted on social media. Police discovered that Russo also received private donations from businesses, non-profit organizations, and school districts in addition to the GoFundMe page, police allege.
During the investigation, police allege they obtained medical records that showed she had never been diagnosed with any kind of cancer or tumor from any medical facilities in the Quad Cities or surrounding areas.
Russo, who was released on $10,000 cash-only bond Jan. 23, is set for arraignment March 2 in Scott County Court, court records show.
A search warrant was served Jan. 25 and, among other items, law enforcement found:
- Medical equipment such as an IV pole, IV tubes, and medical bandages
- Cell phone
- Two journals
- Financial statements – bank information
- 2 prescription bottles prescribed to someone else
- Gift cards
- Gray 2023 Kia Sportage
- Bank deposit slip dated 1/19/23
- Planner book “The Gratitude Journal”
- Brown paper bag with medical supplies
- Black folder with bank statements including vehicle purchase information
- Bank checkbook
- Two boxes of transparent dressing
- St. Ambrose folder with statements on kitchen counter
- Michael Kors brown purse
- Gray laptop with charger
- Bank information with “My Cancer Story”
- IV adapter
- School information
- Bank information from another person
- Pills for nausea prescribed to another person
- Books, records, receipts, notes, ledgers and photos that included use of medical equipment “to deceive people to believe they have medical use for Madison,” police allege in court documents.
Addresses and/or telephone books, Rolodex indices, and any papers reflecting names, addresses, telephone numbers, page numbers, fax numbers and/or telex numbers of co-conspirators, sources of supply, customers, financial institutions, and other individuals or businesses with whom a financial relationship exists, police allege in documents.
Russo has created/authored numerous social media posts talking about her cancers and has been a guest speaker for the National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation, Project Purple, the Ohl Foundation (Dr. Brent Ohl Strong Pancreatic Cancer Support & Awareness Endowment Fund), and St. Ambrose University, under the false pretense she had been diagnosed with
Stage 2 pancreatic cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and suffers from a “football sized tumor” on her left back that wraps around her spine, police allege in official documents.
“However, she is still able to prevail with a 4.0 GPA, be out in the sun, maintain a part-time job at John Deere, and continued to go golfing and according to her (relative’s) social media page is getting a full-ride scholarship to St. Ambrose University,” a document alleges.
Medical professionals have come forward to report “life-threatening inaccuracies” of her medical equipment placement on her body in pictures she shares with social media, documents show. Additionally, medical records taken from hospitals show that Russo, although a patient, has never been treated for any cancers or tumors, according to allegations in documents.
On Jan. 24, GoFundMe released a statement in response to the case: “GoFundMe has a zero tolerance policy for misuse of our platform and cooperates with law enforcement investigations of those accused of wrongdoing. All donors have been refunded and we have removed this fundraiser,” the statement says. “The organizer has also been banned from using the platform for any future fundraisers. GoFundMe’s Giving Guarantee offers a full refund in the rare case when something isn’t right; this is the first and only donor protection guarantee in the fundraising industry.”
GoFundMe is an American for-profit crowdfunding platform that allows people to raise money online.
Local 4 News will continue to follow this case through court documents and court sessions.